Ten Things I Wish I’d Have Known Before I Managed Salespeople

Yesterday I wrote about ten things I wish I’d have known before I started selling professionally. Here are ten things that I wish I’d have known before I started managing a sales force.

  1. Balance activity and effectiveness. When I first managed salespeople, I was laser-focused on activity. Over time I learned that, even though an active rep will bump into deals, you can’t build a high-performing sales organization on activity alone. That takes a careful balance of both activity and effectiveness. You have to do as much work—or more—on building that effectiveness.
  2. Hire for attributes. Even though I worked in staffing, I defaulted to always hiring for experience. That’s always my clients wanted, too. I believed that by hiring for experience, I wouldn’t have to do so much managing. I believed it would make my job easier. Over time, I found that managing is easier when you hire people with the right attributes and coach, train, and develop them.
  3. You live and die by your pipeline. It’s easy to be distracted by all kinds of sales management tasks. But the real action is in the pipeline. I wish I’d have known that your future is easily predicted in the pipeline you have right now. If you want to know what the next two quarters look like, your pipeline has the answer. And there is no cramming for sales results.
  4. Serve salespeople before the organization. The organization makes incredible demands of the sales manager. Many of those demands do nothing to help the sales manager or to help his team produce better results. The more time I spent with salespeople, actively helping them with their live deals, the better the results. Even if the organization has to wait for what it needs, I learned it is better to serve the sales force first.
  5. You sell to your organization. I had know idea how much time I would need to spend selling within my own organization. Even though we all want the same things, there are all kinds of agreements that need to be negotiated. For clients. For the sales force. For the company’s benefit. Your team needs you to sell on their behalf. And, a lot of the time, you’re the only one that can make the internal sale.
  6. You build and manage the process. It was great to find someone that could sell. It was awesome to help someone grow into an effective salesperson. But the challenge is in notching the whole sales organization up. The real key to a high performing sales force is in building and managing a process that improves the performance of the 80% of the sales force that makes the top 20% possible.
  7. You have to see for yourself. If you really want to know how a salesperson performs in front of your prospective clients, you have to go see for yourself. It’s impossibly difficult to know how to help if you haven’t seen it for yourself. My ability to know how to help salespeople was improved by seeing things for myself.
  8. There is only one forecast date that matters. It doesn’t matter what the close date in your sales force automation says, if it isn’t a date your dream client has agreed to, the opportunity isn’t going to close on that date. Period.
  9. Show no mercy when cleaning the pipeline. Salespeople are happy to work on opportunities. They need opportunities to make their number. But much of what comes into the pipeline aren’t really opportunities. I wish I’d have known sooner that you have to protect the sales force from themselves when it comes to disqualifying. Show. No. Mercy.
  10. The big lever is caring enough to personally coach. I managed salespeople. But, if you want a high performing sales force, you need to care enough about the individuals on your team to coach them directly. It takes time and energy. But that investment is returned many times over in results.

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